Alberta auto recyclers outpace BC, Ontario counterparts in mercury vehicle switch recovery
Sixty Alberta auto recyclers voluntarily collected and safely disposed of more than 34 kilograms of mercury from 40,298 vehicle lighting switches this past summer as part of the Clean Air Foundation's Switch Out program. The Alberta group alone collected nearly twice as much as auto recyclers in British Columbia and Ontario combined.
Switch Out is designed to prevent the mercury found in vehicle lighting switches from reaching the environment. One single gram of mercury can pollute a 20-acre (eight-hectare) lake so that the fish cannot be consumed for an entire year. With support from Alberta Environment, the program has been operating since 2003 in Alberta; it also operates in Ontario and British Columbia. The Switch Out program provides training, free transportation and disposal, making it easy for auto recyclers to dispose of mercury safely.
European and Asian-made vehicle manufacturers discontinued the use of mercury switches in 1996, while North American manufacturers did so in 2003. Mercury is used to control anti-lock braking systems and to light LCD display screens, but more than 95% of the mercury found in vehicles is in the switches powering hood and trunk lighting systems. A vehicle may have up to two of these switches, one containing between 0.7 to 1.0gram of mercury. When the vehicles is disposed of, the mercury enters the waste stream-unless it is recovered for proper management.
Run by the Clean Air Foundation, Switch Out is the most successful voluntary vehicle mercury switch recovery program in North America. Bolstered by the leadership of Alberta's recyclers, as well as those in Ontario and BC, the Clean Air Foundation is pursuing the expansion of Switch Out to a national scale, with program support coming from all industry and government stakeholders. The Foundation launched Switch Out Alberta in partnership with Environment Canada, Alberta Environment, Alberta EcoTrust, the Recycling Council of Alberta and the Alberta Automotive Recyclers and Dismantlers Association.